PeARS in Cambridge

Some members of PeARS team (Nandaja, Hrishi, Behrang and Aurelie) met in Cambridge (7-11 Nov. 2016) for a week of coding, workshop-ing, eating and getting rained on. Mayalayam semantic space created. Lots of hairdryer hacking. Lots of chai pe charcha.

PeARS team met in Cambridge for the 'Open Source and NLP workshop' in November. It was the first time that the team members saw each other face-to-face, so a big step for the project!

The team had rented a lovely house off Mill Road, which was immediately renamed 'the PeARS house'.

Nandaja and Hrishi arrived at the weekend, one day later than they'd announced (time zone mixup :D). They were as fit as if jetlag had never existed, and willing to see the city. Aurelie took them on a miserable tour of The Backs, pointing out some interesting sights which were not to be sighted anymore in the pouring rain. Back home, Hrishi befriended the hairdryer and was never seen again without it. He is now known as our official 'hairdryer hacker', having successfully used it as a hot water bottle replacement and an air mattress inflating device.

Talking of cold... Nandaja also secretely hacked the heating system of the house, making Aurelie believe that Spring had come early. When details of the affair eventually leaked, a harsh battle ensued, ending in the decisions of (a) turning the temperature down from 27C, despite protests from the Indian team; (b) making the EU team die of heat when they next visit India.

On a touristy morning, Hrishi, Nandaja and Aurelie got to admire the view from the roof of King's College Chapel, thanks to a Cambridge friend, fellow at the college. The sun had come out again, and Hrishi could enjoy a nap on the roof's ladders. Back home, Aurelie got very quickly used to the necessity of chai pe charcha... or 'tea with conversation'.

Behrang joined the team mid-week, together with twitter bot hacker Esther Seyffarth (Why twitter bot slides). The team went straight into workshop mode, with Aurelie giving an overview of PeARS to the computer laboratory , and Behrang, Nandaja and Hrishi following up the next day with cool talks on vector space construction, GitHub and the Malayalam script. Esther also gave everybody a hands-on introduction to twitter bot building!

Last day of the week... was Hrishi's birthday! The team celebrated with bad cake, lots of candles, and a trip to King's College evensong (for the Harry Potter atmosphere). Parting the next day was hard... only made better by the prospect of having our next meeting in the Himalayas (PeARS-India might not, after all, kill PeARS-Europe with heat :P)

What happened to PeARS in that week? On the first evening, Hrishi and Aurelie played around with creating a Malayalam semantic space from Wikipedia. This prompted discussions about freely providing semantic spaces for all sorts of languages. The team came up with the idea of having a website with an API,, where we could share vectors with PeARS instances, and potentially other people's apps. The website is now live for English, duly hacked by Aurelie and Nandaja on our new VPS. Nandaja provided some more code for the core of PeARS — its Distributed Hash Table. This colossal work is now close to being finished, after 3 months of intensive reading, learning and experimenting! Hrishi started a cool django app that will allow users to tweak their PeARS instance to their heart's content. Behrang shared some ideas on hashing the PeARS vectors, together with some code for a super-fast, super-simple vector space construction method. Needless to say, the week was productive and we can't wait to do more of it in the Himalayas this year!